This week, I watched a documentary that broke my heart. Very Young Girls follows several American teenagers and an organisation called GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services – coolest acronym ever). Essentially, the umbrella fact is that the average age of entry into prostitution in America is just 13 years old. I teach 13 year olds how to dance. They are babies. It is sickening. GEMS is an organisation working to help those already involved in commercial sex eploitation, as well as to prevent it. Founded by a young woman who herself had been exploited in this way as a teenager, GEMS love on these girls with all they have. There are several streams to this documentary. Some of the girls who have come out the other side of prostitution share their stories right from the beginning. Intertwined in these stories is actual footage filmed by pimps who were arrogant enough to think that their lives would make a cool reality TV show. Alongside this is a mother desperately trying to find her daughter with very little help from police. And then there are GEMS and the girls they’re currently trying to help. My favourite was Dominique, who I wept with joy over. Oh, how I wish you would watch it so that you could see why. I can’t stop telling people about this documentary. It was amazing.
But the thing is, so often we watch documentaries like this, and we get on little tangents about the issues raised, and then we forget about it and we never do anything about it. Now, there’s very little I can do about child prostitution in America, except to say this: If you are American, watch this documentary, and then do something about it. Go to http://www.gems-girls.org/get-involved, or http://www.wellspringliving.org/giveyourtime.php, or http://ecpatusa.org/take-action/, or any of the other places that work to end child sexual exploitation in America (just Google “end child sexual exploitation in [your area]”). Because you can never say again that you did not know.
For me, this film made me wonder, as I have so many times, what the situation is here in New Zealand. Because prostitution has been decriminalised here, there’s very little literature on it. But I know that girls as young as 9 do prostitute themselves of their own accord here in New Zealand. I know that we have poverty and abuse, and children who are desperately needing love and affection (the girls in the documentary called their pimps “daddy” – that says all it needs to). So the problem must be bigger then I think it is. A report by the Ministry of Justice in New Zealand calls child prostitutes “young sex workers.” Way to minimalise the horror of what it actually is, New Zealand. According to the ECPAT NZ website, there are approximately 200 children involved in prostitution in New Zealand. That might not seem like a large number, but remember that New Zealand only has just over 4 million people. But the problem with that number is that, without being able to read the source, I don’t know if that counts children under the age of 18, or just under the age of 16. How many 16 and 17 year olds are prostituting themselves and are just being passed by because they’re in that gray area of being old enough to consent to sex, but not being legally adults? On that note, don’t even get me started on wondering why it’s suddenly okay on a young girl’s 18th birthday for men to pay to have sex with her.
Prostitution is that thing we don’t like to talk about. I was a little naive, and thought that prostitution was a rather rare thing that no one was involved (in terms of being a customer) in except a really gross few. But then I met a guy who had become a Christian shortly after finishing university, and he told me that actually it was quite common. Lots of men, of all different ages and lifestyles, pay women for sex. Tonight I find myself wondering how many of those women are actually teenage girls.
I don’t know yet what I’m going to do about the fact of child prostitution in clean, green New Zealand. Part of me wants to say “No, I’m doing enough. We’re doing enough,” because almost everything my husband and I do, from our full time jobs, to the charities we support, to what we do with our free time, is for the betterment of young people, especially those living in our area. But my heart has been beating too fast and too hard for too long for what we’re already doing to be enough.
“Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
– William Wilberforce, speech to Parliament, May 12, 1789